Thursday’s fifth in a series of summer hearings of the Jan. 6 committee was dominated by former acting Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Clark’s role in Donald Trump’s alleged conspiracy to overturn the election.*
That was because a series of unimpeachable Republican witnesses denounced Clark’s abandonment of the Department of Justice’s foundational principles: follow the facts, apply the law, and represent your true clients, the country and justice—not the president.
The day of the hearing, reports also emerged that federal agents executed a judicially approved search warrant of Clark’s home and seized his electronic devices. That news sends the country a clear signal: The DOJ is now investigating the same scheme involving Trump and Clark that was dissected at Thursday’s hearing.
We should not, however, allow Thursday’s focus on Clark to obscure five other important developments that emerged in the hearing. They deserve attention as the astonishing story of Trump’s attempted coup unfolds.
1. Pardons. Liz Cheney hinted in the committee’s first hearing that “multiple other Republican congressmen” requested pardons from the former president in the weeks after Jan. 6. Now we know there is evidence as to whom: Reps. Matt Gaetz, Scott Perry, Louie Gohmert, Marjorie Taylor Greene, Mo Brooks, and Andy Biggs.
To put the words of Republican Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger into courtroom terms, actively seeking a pardon is powerful evidence of “consciousness of guilt.” That is a key route that prosecutors can take to prove criminal intent. People ask for pardons because they’ve done something that they believe makes them vulnerable to criminal prosecution.
The principal crime that comes to mind in the case of these congressional representatives is the same that a federal judge already found Trump and his outside counsel John Eastman “likely” committed: conspiracy to defraud the United States. The congressional representatives may also be implicated in another crime that the judge found Trump likely committed: obstructing an official government proceeding—the Jan. 6 joint session of Congress to certify the election.
2. Attorneys as villains—and heroes. This was an attempted coup using law books and statutes instead of tanks and guns. So it’s little wonder that Clark, Trump’s “Mr. Inside” collaborator/lawyer, and John Eastman, Trump’s “Mr. Outside” collaborator/lawyer, along with Rudolph Giuliani, are in legal jeopardy.
Still, we couldn’t help but find solace, even pride, as we watched and listened to former acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen, Deputy Attorney General Richard Donoghue, and Assistant Attorney General Steven Engel. If some attorneys were coup enablers and co-plotters, others redeemed the Justice Department, their oaths of office, and the professional standards to which lawyers are bound. Thursday’s witnesses had the courage to stand up for the rule of law and the Constitution, especially after weeks and weeks of unceasing pressure from the most powerful man on Earth.
Here’s a piece of news from Thursday’s hearing that may not have been evident to lay observers, but that Justice Department prosecutors are sure to have observed, even if they already knew it: Rosen, Donoghue, and Engel emerged as witnesses whose credibility will be unshakeable in any trial. Any reasonable juror will take their word over the testimony of any witness Trump can produce, including himself.
Trump himself has been reportedly watching. He may not be sleeping well in Mar-a-Lago.
3. Voting machines. Donoghue’s testimony revealed a Dec. 31, 2020, conversation with the president in which Trump demanded that the DOJ seize voting machines. Upon being told by Donoghue that voting machines’ performance was within the Department of Homeland Security’s purview, Trump phoned Ken Cuccinelli, the acting deputy secretary of DHS. Trump told Cuccinelli that “the acting Attorney General … just told me it’s your job to seize machines, and you’re not doing your job.”
Though Cuccinelli never ordered his agency to seize the machines, Trump’s call was one more piece of evidence—added to all the other calls and meetings described—showing both his central role in the concerted scheme and his desperation to accomplish its end: thwarting the lawful transition of power. Trump could not have cared less that such a seizure was illegal, as Rosen and Donoghue counseled him.
4. Trump’s lack of interest in evidence contradicting his Big Lie. The theme that Trump’s sole concern was power, and not facts or law, is the dominant message emerging from hearing after hearing, Republican witness after Republican witness.
It was one thing to watch William Barr’s testimony that Trump disregarded the attorney general’s message that the postelection narrative Trump and his minions were spreading about widespread voter fraud was “bullshit.” Now we have heard Barr’s successor, Rosen, along with Donoghue, testify to their serially giving Trump the same message about the baselessness of the president’s bizarre, internet-gathered election conspiracy theories.
In the end, Trump told the DOJ officials to “just say the election was corrupt and leave the rest to me and the Republican Congressmen.”
In other words, “I don’t care what’s true—just say it.” Repeated testimony about disregard for truth, with the goal of personal gain, is for prosecutors evidence of criminal intent wrapped in ribbon with a perfectly tied bow.
5. Sidney Powell as special counsel? Powell’s recorded testimony indicated that Trump promised her a special counsel appointment to investigate the election. Our jaws dropped. That’s not just because of who Powell is—a lawyer whose wild public statements led even Trump to drop her from his team (at least publicly), and whom a Michigan federal judge has fined for her misrepresentations in one of the Trump campaign’s postelection lawsuits. She is also the subject of bar disciplinary proceedings in Texas. And on June 22, the Justice Department asked a judge to launch an ethics probe of Powell for allegedly funding the legal defense of the Oath Keepers, the militant group whose leader is now under indictment for his role in the violence on Jan. 6.
The idea of Powell serving as a Justice Department special counsel should send chills up the spine of anyone who believes in the importance of the truth. Moreover, as Engel’s testimony revealed, neither Rosen nor his predecessor Barr believed there was a conflict of interest in the Justice Department investigating the election; such a conflict is the predicate for a special counsel’s appointment. Who, we struggle to imagine, would have posed a greater conflict of interest as special counsel probing the election than Sidney Powell?
Each of the select committee’s hearings seems like an impossible evidentiary act to follow. And for those watching, each presentation exceeds expectations in laying out a coherent narrative about Trump’s seven-part plot to destroy American democracy.
We are only midway through the hearings. But with the Justice Department suddenly issuing subpoenas and searching the homes of collaborators in Trump’s coup attempt, one thing is clear: There are more surprises ahead.
Correction, June 24, 2022: This post originally misstated that this was the fourth Jan. 6 committee hearing in the series. It was the fifth.